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Family Data and Research in the Health and Retirement Study


  • Bianchi Suzanne

    () (University of California, Los Angeles)


I discuss the data in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) that can be used to study family change and intergenerational family relationships and offer suggestions about what might be done to enhance the uses of the HRS family data going forward. A number of family demographic behaviors are altering the family context of more recent cohorts of the HRS. These family changes need to be well-captured in the data collection and and should also inform future design decisions. Changes include the higher rates of childlessness, delayed marriage and childbearing after age 30 among the Baby Boom cohorts just now being enrolled in the HRS. Cohorts coming into the study also have higher rates of (lifetime) labor force participation on the part of women and much higher rates of nonmarital childbearing, marital disruption, and informal cohabitation than the original HRS cohorts. There is also great heterogeneity in family patterns by race and class among Baby Boom cohorts. Many of these changes increase the value of collecting family data in the HRS but also complicate the collection of useful data on transfers between parents and children or among siblings. I offer four suggestions for enhancing data collection in the HRS in light of these family changes. These include the following: 1) Reevaluate decisions about the family members on whom to gather information, particularly the decisions about when to collect data on siblings. 2) Consider collecting more information directly from each spouse (and perhaps expanding the definition of “spouse” to include cohabiting partners as cohabitation is on the rise among cohorts now entering the HRS). 3) Begin to experiment with interviewing adult children of HRS respondents and consider broadening the content to include more on parent-child relationship quality and/or on everyday activities and exchanges. 4) Make the family data in the HRS easier to access and use.

Suggested Citation

  • Bianchi Suzanne, 2011. "Family Data and Research in the Health and Retirement Study," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 14(3), pages 1-15, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:fhecpo:v:14:y:2011:i:3:n:10

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Blau, David M, 1998. "Labor Force Dynamics of Older Married Couples," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(3), pages 595-629, July.
    2. Altonji Joseph G & Villanueva Ernesto, 2007. "The Marginal Propensity to Spend on Adult Children," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 7(1), pages 1-52, February.
    3. Liliana Pezzin & Barbara Schone, 1999. "Parental marital disruption and intergenerational transfers: An analysis of lone elderly parents and their children," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 36(3), pages 287-297, August.
    4. McGarry, Kathleen, 1999. "Inter vivos transfers and intended bequests," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(3), pages 321-351, September.
    5. Kathleen McGarry & Robert F. Schoeni, 1995. "Transfer Behavior in the Health and Retirement Study: Measurement and the Redistribution of Resources within the Family," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30, pages s184-s226.
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